By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Anyone who has followed high school basketball has felt the difference in the gym between the regular season and playoff time.
Check out “Tracking the Tournament” on MHSAA.com for every matchup from all 128 brackets, and see below for scores from last week that popped off the page plus a look at three of the most intriguing Districts in each division.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Detroit U-D Jesuit 79, Detroit Cass Tech 59 – Jesuit won the annual Operation Friendship matchup between the winners of the Detroit Catholic League A-B and Detroit Public School League tournaments – and they could meet again in the Division 1 championship game.
2. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 56, Mount Pleasant 44 – After sharing the Saginaw Valley League Blue title with Grand Blanc, the Cavaliers handed the Red champion Oilers their only loss of the regular season.
3. Carleton Airport 69, Monroe St. Mary 59 – With this win, the Jets earned a share of the Huron League title, their first conference title since 2001 and after finishing 2-19 overall last season.
4. Hanover-Horton 78, Ypsilanti Lincoln 73 – The Comets look even more dangerous in Division 3, finishing 19-1 and defeating a Division 1 contender in the Southeastern Conference White champion Railsplitters.
5. Manton 62, McBain 57 – Two weeks after suffering their only Highland Conference loss to McBain, Manton won the rematch to claim the league title outright.
Districts at a Glance
These could be among our most competitive brackets. Host sites are in bold:
Ann Arbor Huron (13-7), Ann Arbor Pioneer (18-2), Belleville (13-7), Saline (11-9), Ypsilanti Community (13-6), Ypsilanti Lincoln (16-4).
Southeastern Conference Red champion Pioneer and White champion Lincoln are lined up on opposite sides of the bracket, and both have byes tonight. Pioneer has won 11 straight and will have to fend off either Red co-runner-up Huron or fourth-place Saline in a semifinal. Lincoln will see either White runner-up Ypsilanti Community (which it most recently beat by a point Feb. 15) or host and Kensington Lakes Activities Association East co-champ Belleville on Wednesday.
Clarkston (17-2), Lake Orion (12-8), Oxford (19-1), Rochester Adams (17-3), Romeo (8-12), Waterford Kettering (9-11).
The reigning Class A champion Wolves haven’t lost since Dec. 4, the second of two defeats to open the season. They’ve also had just two single-digit wins among those 17 straight. But after winning the Oakland Activities Association Red, Clarkston may have to go through two more league champs with OAA White title winner Adams up tonight and Blue champion Oxford on the other side of the bracket.
Grand Haven (13-7), Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills (13-7), Grand Rapids Union (11-9), Muskegon (17-3), Muskegon Mona Shores (5-14), Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (15-5).
The most anticipated matchup may be a possible third meeting between Muskegon High and Reeths-Puffer, which split during the regular season. The Big Reds didn’t lose another game after falling in the first meeting, running off 13 straight victories and claiming the Ottawa-Kent Conference Black title. Reeths-Puffer, on the other hand, has lost four of its last six games including twice to Kenowa Hills – tonight’s District opponent.
Ada Forest Hills Eastern
Ada Forest Hills Eastern (10-10), Grand Rapids Catholic Central (18-2), Grand Rapids Christian (15-5), Grand Rapids Wellspring (11-8), Grand Rapids West Catholic (12-8), Wyoming Lee (2-17).
Grand Rapids Catholic Central came within a basket of winning Class B last season, falling by a point in overtime to Benton Harbor in the championship game. The Cougars bounced back with a perfect run through the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue and losses only to also-league champions Canton and Grand Rapids South Christian. Grand Rapids Christian finished second to the Sailors in the O-K Gold and will look to play spoiler, although the Eagles first must get past surging West Catholic tonight.
Allegan (5-15), Allendale (13-6), Hamilton (7-13), Hopkins (15-4), Holland Christian (16-4), Hudsonville Unity Christian (18-2).
Unity Christian has won 14 straight and held off Holland Christian by 21 and then just five to win the O-K Green outright. They could meet again Wednesday if Unity gets past O-K Blue runner-up Allendale in tonight’s opener. O-K Silver runner-up Hopkins has won 10 of its last 11 games and has a bye on the other side of the bracket.
Algonac (0-20), Macomb Lutheran North (9-11), Marine City (15-4), New Haven (19-1), Richmond (19-1), St. Clair (10-10).
New Haven – a Class B semifinalist last year and champion in 2017, and featuring Mr. Basketball candidate Romeo Weems – is among favorites to win the Division 2 championship. But the Rockets will face at least one immediate challenge. Their side of this bracket includes Lutheran North and Algonac. But in the District Final, New Haven could see Blue Water Area Conference champion Richmond or Marine City, which celebrated its first league title since 1985 in taking the Macomb Area Conference Bronze.
Blissfield (11-8), Clinton (7-13), Erie-Mason (18-2), Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (15-4), Ottawa Lake Whiteford (6-14), Petersburg-Summerfield (18-2).
League champions Erie-Mason (Lenawee County Athletic Association), Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (Huron League, shared) and Petersburg-Summerfield (Tri-County Conference) make this an especially tough bracket, with the latter two possibly meeting Wednesday. St. Mary tonight has to be careful with Blissfield, which has won eight of its last 10 games. Summerfield’s only defeat came to Erie-Mason, by 20 on Feb. 13.
Carson City-Crystal (18-2), Lakeview (6-12), Morley Stanwood (18-1), Pewamo-Westphalia (20-0), Saranac (0-17).
Three league champions fill out 60 percent of this bracket – Carson City-Crystal from the Mid-State Activities Conference, Morley Stanwood from the Central State Activities Association Silver and Pewamo-Westphalia from the Central Michigan Athletic Conference. P-W and Morley Stanwood are on the same side of the bracket and could meet Wednesday – P-W has had three games in single digits all season and the Mohawks have two wins by only single digits and a five-point loss to Grant. Carson City-Crystal’s defeats came to another league champion Sanford Meridian and a runner-up, Reese.
Iron River West Iron County
Calumet (16-4), Iron River West Iron County (10-8), Iron Mountain (20-0), Ironwood (19-1), L’Anse (11-8), Norway (8-11).
This District also includes three league champions – Ironwood from the Indianhead Conference, Calumet from the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper and undefeated Iron Mountain from the West-PAC Iron. The latter two met Dec. 7, an overtime Iron Mountain win, and could meet in Friday’s District championship game. But Ironwood could have something to say about that – it meets Iron Mountain tonight in one of the most anticipated District openers statewide. Ironwood’s only loss came last week to a league runner-up, Bessemer.
Bloomfield Hills Roeper (14-6), Novi Christian (14-6), Southfield Christian (14-6), West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy (13-7).
Reigning Class D champion Southfield Christian would seem a heavy favorite in just about any Division 4 District having won 12 of their last 13 games after opening with a number of much larger schools. But Novi Christian – tonight’s opponent – finished second to the Eagles in the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue and lost the rematch Feb. 5 by only 10, one of the closest Southfield Christian wins of this closing run. Frankel Jewish Academy also was a league runner-up, in the Detroit Catholic League Intersectional 2, and Roeper was third in the MIAC Red.
Baraga (0-20), Chassell (15-5), Dollar Bay (16-4), Hancock (2-18), Lake Linden-Hubbell (7-12).
Dollar Bay advanced to the Class D Semifinals a year ago and had won nine straight during this regular-season’s second half before falling to Chassell 62-54 on Friday – the win clinched the Copper Mountain Conference Copper Country championship for the Panthers. They could meet for a third time Wednesday; Chassell also won the first meeting Dec. 17 by nine.
Bear Lake (11-8), Brethren (11-8), Buckley (8-11), Fife Lake Forest Area (2-17), Frankfort (14-5), Onekama (12-7).
This District actually doesn’t include a league champion. But Frankfort finished second to Division 3 contender Maple City Glen Lake in the Northwest Conference, and Onekama was third. Reigning Class D runner-up Buckley tied for fifth after graduating most of last season’s contributors – but beat Frankfort by 14 last week.
Second Half’s weekly “Breslin Bound” reports are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTO: Flint Carman-Ainsworth and Grand Blanc meet in a Division 1 District opener after sharing a league title this winter. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)
GRAND RAPIDS – Bob Schichtel always pauses when he comes across the ancient black and white photo long enough to ponder whatever became of the two youngsters adorned in Grand Rapids Union basketball uniforms.
The posed shot shows two players facing each other in a local gymnasium in a photo apparently taken four days after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that launched the country into World War II. Only a handful of fans today would recognize the players' striped, ultra-short shots and simple sleeveless shirts with "Union" emblazed across the front as recognizable basketball uniforms. One holds a battered-looking basketball, while the other looks on. The two players, whose uniform numbers are "4" and "9," aren't really smiling, but still seem as close as any teammates, whether 81 years ago or today.
In fact, it's the look the youngsters share that intrigues Schichtel, whose thankless, pro bono job it is to identify the two players.
"Once you start," said Schichtel, a former longtime Grand Rapids basketball coach, "it's like looking down a deep rabbit hole."
Schichtel works as a volunteer for the Grand Rapids Public Library trying to identify mostly former Grand Rapids City League basketball players from approximately 1938 through the early fifties. The online photos are mostly from the Robinson Photo Studio Collection taken in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Herald newspaper. The library says the unique collection spans some 950 basketball negatives from the entire Robinson/Herald collection that totals well over 900,000 Grand Rapids photos.
While the work – which amounts to a ton of patience combined with a detective ability – can be exhausting, it's still what Schichtel describes as a labor of love. For example, there's the shot of the two still-unidentified Union players. Schichtel looks at the photo and can't help but wonder whatever happened to the kids. Were they exceptional athletes? Did they leave their marks on Grand Rapids history, whether it was in education, politics, business, industry, the arts or another field? He doesn't even know, as in many photos from this era, whether the two entered the military and thus even survived World War II.
Schichtel has searched everywhere for the answers, but has come up short. Too many times, in fact.
Which isn't to say he'll quit looking or chalk up his research as inconsequential. Schichtel said the foremost reason he spends hours on the project is that many of the athletes he identifies deserve the recognition for achievements far beyond basketball. In many cases former City League basketball, football, baseball, track and tennis athletes became the foundation on which Grand Rapids was built. If Schichtel can uncover an old photo which depicts these youngsters during their high school careers, so much the better, he said.
"It's important to recognize Grand Rapids sports history, and I don't know if we've given enough attention to their past," Schichtel said. "They are what got us here, and I'm a firm believer they need to be recognized for it."
Figuring out that history, however, ranges from, at the least, extremely time consuming to – in too many frustrating cases – virtually impossible. The City League was formed in the late 1920s and featured original schools Grand Rapids Central, Creston, South, Union, Ottawa Hills, Catholic Central and Davis Tech. The league was eventually folded into the Ottawa-Kent Conference in 2008.
"It was a long, evolving league," Schichtel said.
The identification tools available to Schichtel are actually more numerous than most would suspect. For starters, he's formed an impressive database of information by pouring through old City League yearbooks and programs, photos from other collections and microfilm of old newspapers, And then there's also the knowledge gathered by Schichtel himself, a 1968 Grand Rapids Catholic Central graduate. After playing in many old City League gymnasiums, Schichtel went on to compile a 389-197 record in 27 years as the Cougars girls basketball coach. He uses countless City League contacts as both a player and coach to identify athletes. In all, Schichtel taught in the Grand Rapids school system for 34 years.
He also uses the game itself to identify the photos. For instance, he can pinpoint some photos simply by the styles of the uniforms worn by players. He also figures out who is who by other clues such as what the players are doing in the photo. If a player is taking a set shot in the photo, it's likely pre-World War II. The beginnings of the jump shot, or what Schichtel calls "elevation while shooting," is probably mid-1940s. In addition, Schichtel can identify photos through pure basketball athleticism. Players can look a bit awkward in shots from the thirties as compared to players from the late 1940s who were beginning to play with a more obvious flare.
Put all the information together and Schichtel, who has uncovered more than two dozen personal connections to subjects in the photos, believes he has a reasonable shot at identifying them.
Since he signed on with the project, Schichtel figures he's identified about 10 percent of the photos he's viewed. Among the City League athletes he's found shots of Central's John Lavan, who was born in 1890 and played Major League Baseball during the Babe Ruth era and became a military hero who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery; Creston basketball player Roger Wilkins, an assistant United States attorney general during the Watergate hearings; Art Spoelstra of Godwin, a former NBA player and member of the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame; and Grand Rapids native Bill Cutler, who turned a chance post-World War II meeting with then-American League president Will Harridge into a position as commissioner of the Pacific Coast League,
Schichtel said gaining information through photos on the people who became the bedrock of Grand Rapids should be celebrated.
"I think it's a great approach for the community; they shouldn't be forgotten," Schichtel said. "Who else is going to do this? Why do I do it? I see a certain, for lack of a better word, a nobility. These kids played for the love of game, and they became the “Greatest Generation.” These kids did great things. It's not just, 'Well, there's No. 58,’ in a photo.
"You want to know more about them. That's the real intrigue for me."
Tim Gloege of the Grand Rapids Public Library said the collection of photos – and their identification – is continually growing. As more people log onto the library's website, more people want to either add to the collection or have information that leads to an identification. The library estimates about 1,200 photos are searched monthly. But as time grows, many of the original photos are disintegrating. The library is in a constant state of preservation, Gloege said.
"It's a massive project, and we're working to get as many photos online as possible," he said. "The numbers (of photos) we have are rising pretty significantly as people post them on social media.
"When you think of the past and now, you need to realize these are people, kids who used to play basketball and did other things. The work is hard and very time-intensive, but it brings a whole new dimension to history."
Schichtel said he's "kind of picked the low-hanging fruit" on many of the easy photos to identify. But the work will continue.
"Yes, it can be frustrating," he said. "There are limitations if you want it to be accurate. Sometimes you look at a photo and you know it's not going to happen, and you move on. But this a chance to learn about people who made Grand Rapids what it is. That's important to me."
PHOTOS (Top) Two Grand Rapids Union basketball players stand for a photo taken Dec. 12, 1941. (2) Longtime area coach Bob Schichtel researches hundreds of photos that are part of the Grand Rapids Public Library archive. (3) Schichtel has identified these 1941 Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills basketball players as James Horn (left) and Chuch Reynier. (4) Schichtel identified Grand Rapids South High’s “Fireman Five” of, from left, Fred Esslair, Lee Morrow, Jack Carroll, Bob Youngberg and Bruce Bigford. (Historic photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library.)